AFP: The US military has seen a drop in the use of Iranian-made armor piercing explosives in Iraq but is unsure whether Iran has slowed the flow of weapons to Shia groups, a top US commander said Thursday. WASHINGTON (AFP) The US military has seen a drop in the use of Iranian-made armor piercing explosives in Iraq but is unsure whether Iran has slowed the flow of weapons to Shia groups, a top US commander said Thursday.
Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, who is in charge of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said the number of explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, that were found or detonated dropped from a peak of 99 in July to 53 in October.
“They might have slowed the rate of sending EFPs in,” Odierno said, referring to the Iranians. “I just can’t tell you right now. I think in a couple of months I’ll be able to give you a better idea of that.”
The decline followed a meeting in early August in Tehran between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who pledged his help in calming the security situation in Iraq.
US commanders in the past have vehemently accused the Iranians of stoking the violence in Iraq by training so called “special groups” and arming them with EFPs and other weapons.
But in a question-and-answer session with reporters here via video link from Baghdad, Odierno expressed greater uncertainty over Iran’s recent role in the violence in Iraq, which has dropped significantly over the past four months.
He said there has been a steady decline in the use of EFPs in attacks, although the numbers remain high.
US forces captured one of the largest caches of EFPs ever in Iraq about a week ago, as well as significant caches of Iranian rockets and rocket launchers, but it was unclear how long they have been in the country, he said.
Referring to the EFP cache, he said, “Our initial assessment is that might be around the January time frame, maybe before this agreement.”
“So it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgents,” he said.
Armed with charts and graphs, Odierno said steep declines over the past four months in Iraqi civilian deaths, US military casualties, roadside bombings, and overall attacks showed that the US military has gained the momentum.
To sustain it, he said US and Iraqi forces needed to keep up the pressure on armed Sunni and Shiite extremist groups.
But to make the progress “irreversible” will require that the government deliver basic services to the public on a scale and consistency not seen so far and that it reach out across sectarian lines.
The US military is counting on the progress, as well as the formation of more capable Iraqi security forces, to allow it to reduce the size of its 172,000-strong force and send home five of 20 combat brigades by July.
Odierno said al-Qaeda in Iraq still retained the capacity to mount attacks, but had had lost its sanctuaries and many of its top leaders.
“Those who replaced them are not as good as those who were there before, and we continue to see a slow degradation in Al Qaida’s capability here in Iraq,” he said.
US operations targeting the Iranian-backed “special groups” had taken many of its leaders off the streets, he said.
“I think that had an impact on these groups, I think that made them reconsider,” he said “I also believe that made them decide that they have to do some reorganization and rethink what they want for Iraq.”
He said a cease-fire announced by Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric whose Mahdi Army has been blamed for much of the violence, was been adhered to in some areas.
“That’s also enabled us to open some talks with people from the movement of Sadr. That’s encouraging. We’ve not had that before. We’ll see where it goes,” he said.